Safety concerns could prompt India to bring back eight officials from its high commission in Islamabad after six members of the Pakistani mission here left for home on Wednesday, taking ties to a fresh low amid heightened tensions.
The safety of the Indian diplomats was compromised as their identities were posted online and their photos flashed by Pakistani news channels. The Pakistani media described two of the officials as spies and quoted sources as saying that they were involved in espionage and “subversive activities”.
The standoff follows unrelenting Pakistani shelling in the border areas of Jammu and Kashmir over the past fortnight, resulting in heavy civilian fatalities. At least 20 people, including children, were killed as Pakistani troops pounded border areas with mortar shells.
Official sources in New Delhi said the identities of the Indian officials were leaked to Pakistani media shortly after a video emerged of the interrogation by Delhi Police of Mehmood Akhtar, a Pakistan high commission official arrested and expelled last week on charges of spying.
In the video, Akhtar is seen naming six more Pakistani officials as members of the spying ring. These six officials, including four of the rank of first secretary, were the ones who left India with their families on Wednesday.
The sources also questioned Delhi Police’s decision to release the video to the media. It is believed that this had resulted in tit-for-tat leaks to the Pakistani media.
Pakistani TV channels and news websites initially ran stories that described Indian commercial counselor Rajesh Agnihotri and press secretary Balbir Singh as intelligence agents. Later, names of six more Indian officials were made public.
Sources said the news reports had raised serious concerns about the safety of the eight Indian officials, especially as their photos were flashed on TV at a time of heightened tensions. This would make it easy for forces inimical to India to identify them in public, the sources added.
Though there was no official word, the sources said the officials would have to be called back as “there is a clear danger to their lives”. The Indian officials include a counselor, three first secretaries and four assistants.
The external affairs ministry also summoned Pakistan’s deputy high commissioner Syed Haider Shah and protested against ceasefire violations on the frontiers in Kashmir. It also protested against the mutilation of the body of an Indian solider by a “terrorist” who crossed the Line of Control.
Pakistani forces have targeted border villages and army posts since India’s elite forces conducted surgical strikes on militant hideouts in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir in September.
No deaths were reported on Wednesday but many villagers living near the frontline have been evacuated to safe places.